(File pix) Sporty front fascia with black grill and chrome trim.

IN my relatively short period of time in this line, I can be thankful for having access to a wide variety of cars, from the small A-segment hatchback all the way to multi-million ringgit machines.

But the one car that I never got my hands on in that period is that pretty popular, desirable and iconic MINI Cooper range. Somehow, our paths just never seem to cross.

I drove the classic Austin Mini before but not a single one from the current modern lineup. So when I received the invitation to test one, I simply had to say yes.

You heard it before, right, and probably had even experienced it, that “MINI cars are fun to drive”, “MINI cars have gokart-like handling” and similar impressions.

The car I took for a spin was the MINI Cooper S Countryman Pure, a good example of what the current MINI range has to offer.

Not too basic, not too showy like the John Cooper Work (JCW) edition, and not too sophisticated like the E ALL4 plug-in hybrid version.

The MINI Cooper S Countryman Pure is an addition to the Countryman range introduced earlier this year.

(File pix) An air curtain channels air from the intake to the wheel well for better aerodynamic effect.

It is priced at RM228,888 on-the-road without insurance, which is RM20,000 cheaper than the Countryman Sports.

What you get for that money is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood, making 189hp and 280Nm of torque.

An eight-speed Steptronic Sports automatic transmission is paired to the engine, allowing for a zero-to-100kph sprint in 7.4 seconds.

The Cooper S Countryman Pure comes standard with LED headlights featuring cornering lights, 18-inch Black Pin Spoke wheels, Leather Cross Punch Carbon Black upholstery, Hazy Grey interior finish, dual-zone automatic climate control, and powered front seats.

The car also gets the MINI Connected package with built-in 4G SIM connectivity, and a range of services like the Intelligent Emergency Call, TeleServices, MINI Online, MINI Concierge Service, Remote Services and supports Apple CarPlay.

(File pix) The 18-inch wheels.

THE DRIVE

The moment I sat in the car, I immediately felt the stiff side bolsters of the seats.

The driver’s seat was firm, but not to the point that it got uncomfortable, and it was rather supportive.

Once I drove off, the Cooper S Countryman started to show its true characters. The ride made me realise that it has been a long time since I found fun elements in a drive.

The car was not something I can say Golf R-fast, but it accelerates decently-quick, and coupled to its steering that is pin-point sharp.

Yup, the steering was one of the sharpest setup I have ever found in today’s cars with electric power steering.

Slight input to either directions enables the driver to feel the chassis obeying to the steering. You can feel it through the back and the bottom of your body, which makes you appreciate the stiff and supportive seats.

From the way the sporty exhaust sounds, the rapid gearbox shifts and the direct steering, the Countryman felt smaller than it actually is.

(File pix) The cockpit of the MINI Countryman.

And you just want to look for corners to toss around with the car. It underlines that straight roads are boring.

In terms of exterior styling, I quite like the package offered in this Pure variant.

The combination of MINI’s chic dual-tone body colours and premium touches with chrome elements at the right places was spot on.

And my two favourite parts are the black 18-inch wheels and the air curtains on the outer sides of the front bumper. The interior was very MINI with all the rounded displays and switches.

The line of toggles below the air-con switches are a joy to operate; they have nice tactile feel.

However, some other buttons around the rotating knob on the centre console could use better plastics with better feel.

With its sporty driving and handling it offers, the MINI Cooper S Countryman has an adequate level of practicality.

The overall cabin is pretty airy and at the back, there’s plenty of headroom. The seats are comfortable too as they are softer than the front ones.

(File pix) The infotainment unit looks chic and youthful with vibrant colours. It is also easy to use.

It is a MINI that can properly sit five adults with no hassle. Your passengers will also appreciate the presence of a number of storage places around the cabin as well as the rear air-con vents.

The boot space, although with its fair 450-litre is not the best in the segment, has a flat inside walls, making all of the spaces usable.

Also stowed here under the cargo floor is the MINI Picnic Bench, which is like a leather piece for you to comfortably sit on. A unique MINI thing I must say.

As for the fuel efficiency, I managed to get up to 330km from each refuel. But this was combined city and highway driving with passengers and luggage.

At 110kph, the car recorded 16.67km per litre. So the car can be very efficient if you want it, and very thirsty if you can’t resist the “encouragement” it gives.

The MINI Cooper S Countryman simply exceeded my expectations. It is not only a practical MINI, but primarily fun piece of kit.

It can carry decent pace on the straights as well as in corners. Its siblings, the BMW X1 and X2 might offer more finesse, but it is the Countryman that will give you more smiles.

(File pix) The MINI Cooper S Countryman Pure.